How To Use a Bike Pump

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If you’ve got a new bike, the first accessory you’ll need is a good bike pump. It takes up little room, and you’ll never know when you’ll need it.

But, do you know how to use a bike pump, and what is the correct pressure for your tire type?

This is crucial to have a good ride and make sure you take good care of your tires.

Learning how to use a bike pump is easy, but it does have a couple of tricks. These are the steps:

  1. Find the right pump.
  2. Pick the correct tire pressure.
  3. Prepare the valve.
  4. Press the nozzle on the valve.
  5. Pump the tire.
  6. Check the pressure.

These are the basics, but there are more important details, which we’ll now get into.

How To Use a Bike Pump Step by Step

 

Keeping your tires properly inflated is key to having a pleasurable ride. Check your tires at least once a week if you ride a lot.

If you tend to use your bike less often, it’s good to check the tires every time you take it out on a ride.

Whether it’s your first time using a bike pump or you’re having trouble with the right pressure, follow these steps:

1. Find the Right Pump

First, you’ll need to find the right bike pump type for your tire valves. Bike pumps typically have two nozzle types for both kinds of valves:

  • Schrader valve: Short and wide, and the same valve type you’ll find in a car tire and common on mountain bike tires.
  • Presta valve: Narrow and has a longer stem. This valve type is common in road bikes because it’s better on high-pressure tires.

Some bike pumps, especially the more expensive ones, have two nozzles to fit both types of valves.

Alternatively, you can buy an adapter for both types. This can be a smart buy because it allows you to inflate your tires at a gas station if needed.

2. Pick the Correct Air Pressure

Look for the required air pressure marked on the tire sidewall. You’ll likely find a minimum and a maximum recommended air pressure, but the sweet spot is in between the two. The general rule of thumb is that the wider the tire, the lower the pressure.

Here’s a general guide:

Mountain Bikes

Wide mountain bike tires generally require much lower air pressure than thin road bike tires. The right pressure on these tires is about 25 to 35 pounds per square inch (PSI).

This is because the tire needs to have a bit of give to absorb impact from uneven terrain. If you pump the tires too much, you’ll transfer every bump on the road to your arms and body.

Road Bikes

Road bike tires are thin, so they need to have a much higher pressure to carry your weight while keeping the wheel straight. The correct pressure will make you faster when riding on an even surface while absorbing impact.

The right pressure is likely somewhere between 80 and 130 PSI, depending on your weight and the tire.

Hybrids

Hybrids, or tires between road and mountain bikes in width, also have an optimal tire pressure in the middle of the range. The ideal pressure is between 40 and 70 PSI, but check your tire for specifics.

This number can vary depending on how wide the tire is and what type of terrain you’re riding on.

Keep in mind: Remember that you’ll also have to factor in your weight. The heavier you are, the more pressure you’ll need on your tires. Still, when you’re closer to the maximum pressure, you’ll have a higher risk of blow-outs.

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3. Prepare the Valve

Simply remove the dust cap and put it in a pocket so you don’t lose it.

A dust cap isn’t necessary for your bike valve to work, but it keeps it free from dirt and corrosion, which might affect the valve in the long term.

On a Presta valve, you’ll need to unscrew a lockring after removing the dust cap. You won’t need to get it out completely; only loosen it to press the stem in to pump the tire.

4. Place the Nozzle on the Valve

Press the nozzle firmly on the tire valve, which is when you’ll likely hear a bit of air coming out of the tire. It’s completely normal, so don’t worry.

Keep it firmly on the valve to prevent the air from escaping, though. On some pumps, you’ll have to turn a lever to attach it to the valve.

5. Start Pumping

Start inflating the tire, and follow the gauge to see when you’ve hit the recommended PSI.

If your bike pump doesn’t have a gauge, you can buy one separately. They’re cheap, handy and work on both bike and car tires.

Of course, you can pump your tires without a gauge, but it’s harder to know when you’ve got the correct amount of air. Remember that riding with the right air pressure is more pleasurable for you and better for your tires in the long run.

What if I Don’t Have a Pressure Gauge?

To test if you’ve got the right pressure without a gauge, just press on the tire’s sidewall with your thumb. On a mountain bike, you should be able to push it about ⅓-of-an-inch inside. With a road bike tire, your thumb should hardly be able to squeeze the tire.

Remember to do this checkup on the sidewall of your tire. It’s softer and more accurate than the tread.

You can also get on the bike and see if the walls protrude. This will be especially helpful if you’re heavy because it will give you a more accurate look for your body weight.

How Do You Put Air in Bike Tires at a Gas Station?

Sometimes, you won’t have a pump at hand, or it may break on the road, so you’ll have to resort to a gas station.

To pump your tires at a gas station:

  1. Take the dust cap off the valve: If you’ve got a Presta valve, unscrew the lockring and find your adapter for a Schrader valve.
  2. Find the hose: If the pump requires a coin to work, put it in the machine.
  3. Press the nozzle on the valve and start inflating: Do it in very short intervals and follow the pressure gauge.

The biggest risk in a gas station pump is that it’s much faster and more powerful than a manual pump, so inflate with lots of care. Bike inner tubes are made from latex, so they may blow up if you overinflate them.

Also, remember that if you have a road bike, you’ll likely need an adapter for the valve. It’s a good idea to keep one at hand in your emergency kit.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

How Full Should Bike Tires Feel?

Bike tires should feel full enough so they don’t slow you down, but not so full they’ll transfer every bump to you. How full bike tires should feel depends on the tire type and the terrain you’re riding on. Mountain bike tires will need to have less air than road bike tires.

What Happens if You Put Too Much Air in Your Bike Tires?

If you put too much air in your bike tires, they’ll be hard as rocks to ride on, which can tire you out faster. They’re also more likely to have a blow-out and burst if you hit even a small pothole. The ideal air pressure will keep you isolated from bumps on the road but will also keep your tires usable for longer.

Can You Inflate a Bike Tire Without a Pump?

You can inflate a tire without a pump in an emergency with a CO2 cartridge and a nozzle. You can also blow on it with your mouth, as if you were blowing up a balloon. The latter will take some time and patience, and you should clean up the valve before putting it in your mouth because it can be unsanitary.

Can a Ball Pump Be Used on a Bike?

You can’t use a ball pump on a bike because of the different nozzle types and air pressure levels. Ball pumps have a needle, whereas a bike pump has a wide, round nozzle. Tire pumps also have much higher air pressure than ball pumps.

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The Takeaway

 

Learning how to use a bike pump is easy, but you’ll need the right pump for your valve. A pressure gauge can also come in handy, and it won’t cost you much.

Pay attention to the type of tire you have, as well as your weight and the terrain you’ll be riding on. In general, the narrower the tire, the higher the pressure.

Remember to regularly check the tire pressure, from once a week to every time you ride your bike. This ensures you’ll always have the most pleasurable experience riding, and you’ll keep your tires and wheels in perfect condition for longer.

 

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